Silver Halide photo cleaning (water-damaged photos)

Procedure for recovering damaged traditional photo prints due to immersion in water, mud, or sand.

  1. If a photo print is completely or mostly dry, first lightly remove any mud on the surface using a soft brush. If you do not have a brush or if the photo print is only partially dry or completely wet, proceed directly to Step 2. Be sure to wear thin rubber gloves. We recommend the use of medical gloves or gloves used for handling food.

  2. To remove large parts of dirt, pass the photo print through still water (NOT running) and at room temperature (20°C-30°C). Do not forcibly remove dirt; The surface may be damaged beyond repair.

  3. Next, soak the photo print in clean water at room temperature for about 30 to 60 seconds before beginning the clean-up process.

  4. Once submerged, gently use the tip of your finger or a soft brush to wipe the surface of the print to delicately remove any remaining mud or sand. Be sure to start at the outside corners and move toward the centre, where the subject of the photo is located, as you clean while watching how the condition changes. If the surface of the print changes, stop cleaning immediately.

  5. If part of the image surface of the print easily turns red, yellow, or white during these procedures, this indicates that the image is significantly damaged and should not be handled further. When the image surface is seriously damaged, it feels slippery to touch even when wearing thin rubber gloves. Such print image surfaces should only be lightly rinsed in water.

  6. Do not forget to wipe dirt off the back of the print. (A painting brush can remove dirt more efficiently than your finger when cleaning the back).

  7. Once cleaning is finished, rinse in still water (NOT running). Let it dry in the shade or in a dark place where dust can't reach the photo. It’s fine to spread photos on soft clothes like towels or strips of kitchen paper, or hang them to dry using clothes pins. Avoid newspapers. Newspaper ink will stick easily to the printed image. Be aware to place the printed image facing up!

  8. Avoid quick drying using direct sunlight, a hair dryer or other hot air sources since it can cause the photo to curl.


If you accidentally dried the wet photos face down on the (news)paper, causing ink to remain on the photos, use a regular soft “white” pencil-eraser. You can carefully try to remove the ink-marks. But specially on glossy paper surfaces, scuff-marks can occur. To prevent this scuffing, re-wetting of the pictures during the rubbing with the pencil eraser is highly recommended. This works even better when the pictures are completely immersed in water during the rubbing. You can place the pictures in a small water bath and then (still very carefully) rub the ink-marks from the pictures. When all ink-marks are removed, again flush the pictures with clear water and let them dry between sheets of plain paper.